Creating a Global Digital
Sales Simulator for ABB


Based in Zurich, ABB is a $34 billion global company whose 132,000 employees serve utilities, transportation and infrastructure customers in 100 countries. The company provides digitally connected industrial equipment and systems to an installed base of more than 70,000 control systems connecting 70 million devices.


Creating a scalable, cost-effective learning experience that will help sales professionals understand how to:

  • Demand Generation – Research and discover opportunities for new business acquisition
  • Create Value Propositions – Identify how ABB’s offerings can meet an individual customer’s specific needs
  • Collaborate – Establish relationships with other relevant colleagues at ABB, even if they don’t work in the same department or function

The Situation:

A sales professional’s knowledge needs to go beyond what his or her company sells. He or she also must know the company’s markets, the needs of both existing and prospective customers, and how the company’s offerings meet those needs better than competitors. In a dynamic environment, such capabilities require ongoing training.

In the past, ABB sales executives relied on face-to-face training sessions, lectures and PowerPoint presentations, says Joe Maffione, group vice president of marketing and sales. But when Maffione evaluated ABB’s training programs, he saw room for improvement.

“Typically, what I saw was a group of slides presented to sales people in an entertaining fashion,” Maffione says. “But when I asked salespeople, ‘Which slide left the biggest impression on you? Which slide really caught your attention?’ the answers were disappointing. And then I asked, ‘OK, based on this training, what are you going to do differently?’ Again, the answers were disappointing.”

After researching how to improve the training, Maffione decided experiential learning through simulations would enable ABB not only to present new information to salespeople but also show them how their performance could influence the company’s sales pipeline and revenues. Immersing the salespeople in a relevant experience would help them learn new ways to identify opportunities, connect with customers and win proposals. And, to make the experience valuable to ABB, it also had to be accessible for up to 10,000 sales professionals without forcing them to travel.

“That is what we were solving for,” Maffione says. “An experience where people would say, I remember this, and I will do that differently. That was the whole goal.”

To achieve this goal, ABB worked with simulation experts at Experience It Inc. to create the Sales Simulator, a massively scalable digital simulation.

The Simulation

In the Sales Simulator, each participant plays a role on a five-member team. These teams compete to win deals and market share on the fictional island of Phredonia. The game’s design presents an office environment, with emails and voicemails arriving, along with assignments from superiors. Players also determine what kinds of information to share with fellow players through emails and chat messages.

The simulation is built on Experience It’s Immersive Learning Platform which allows team members, located anywhere in the world, to see each other’s moves as they make them.

During the simulation, participants playing the roles of sales managers, marketing managers and sales professionals must learn how to work together collaboratively. For example, managers provide information and guidance to empower front-line sales people. Marketing managers must share information with sales professionals about services, and supply them with background customer research and analysis on competition.

When participants do their job well, sales teams can identify which prospective customers could benefit from ABB’s offerings, and what specific products and services could best meet their needs.

Their mission is to find opportunities by sifting through information in newsfeeds, annual reports, quarterly statements and other sources. The simulation requires several successful behaviors of sales managers, marketing managers and sales professionals, including:

  • Actively pursuing new opportunities and growing current opportunities rather than waiting for customers to call
  • Spotting market trends, supporting the team with research and materials that help sales professionals know what opportunities to pursue
  • Identifying products and services from ABB’s portfolio that are relevant to a customer’s needs, and creating value propositions
  • Learning how to manage their finite time, and spending more time on activities that drive sales

The Sales Simulator allows participants to practice what it means to work collaboratively in their teams and across the company. They get acquainted with using all the resources at their disposal.

The simulation is composed of three one-hour sales periods. The first is an orientation that shows players how they can take actions in the simulation to pursue sales leads and generate opportunities (and what happens if they don’t). It includes quizzes to check that participants understand the elements of their assigned roles.

“We’re trying to help them understand what they should and shouldn’t be doing, and how that contributes to everyone’s success,” Maffione says.

In the second and third periods, sales teams compete to move and grow opportunities through their pipelines and ultimately close sales. Participants get detailed feedback on their performance, such as how their actions contributed (or failed to contribute) to the team’s success. Did the marketing manager spot the critical market trend? Did the salesperson contact the right customer about the service offering that best matched his or her company’s needs?

The feedback is designed to help participants understand what drives their results and how to get better results next time. At the end of the three periods, a leader board shows how each team performed in the competition for sales.

“It is not uncommon to hear cheering from the winners,” Maffione says. “Part of the reason for that may be that the simulation is challenging. Some of the customer cases are hard. They have to do a number of things to win an opportunity. They have to address customer complaints. They have to align customer needs with our service offerings. They have to make connections with the right people and provide value propositions for our services. At the end, they’ll say, ‘We did everything we could do and we finally won.’ The simulation forces them to go through a process: What steps haven’t I taken? What issues do I need to address to win this contract?”

How ABB Uses The Sales Simulator

ABB uses the Sales Simulator in three ways:

  1. The sales organization runs virtual sessions all over the world in which teams of five participate in the three-period simulation.
  2. The company holds events in which several teams will compete at the same time. Then the teams are debriefed to discuss lessons learned – especially when a team struggles.
  3. The Sales Simulator is also used as one activity in a two-day Account Management workshop. In those situations, a facilitator, or Maffione, presents key concepts and runs feedback and debriefing sessions with participants to review lessons learned and how they can take those lessons back to their jobs. For example, sales professionals can look at their account plans and sales pipelines and discuss how to translate the simulation’s principles into sales growth.

The Results

As of October 2020, more than 4,500 ABB sales professionals  in 78 countries around the world have experienced the Sales Simulator.

Feedback on the simulation has included comments that it presents new situations for salespeople, showing them how to more actively engage in the selling process.

Because the simulation has received positive reviews, Maffione says he has fielded requests for new customer cases that reflect situations his colleagues have confronted in the marketplace. The design of the simulation enables ABB to create additional customer cases for players to experience, and the company plans to add more.

“We ended up with a very good product!” Maffione says.